Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Under The Hood fundraiser raises awareness on Memorial Day

Last night, on Memorial Day, supporters of Under the Hood Cafe and Outreach Center in Killeen held a fundraiser in Austin.  The music, donated by many excellent musicians, was great, and interspersed with the bands, several veterans spoke about their involvement with UTH and what it has meant for them and their families.  Regina Vasquez, founder of the Fatigues Clothesline project, brought several pieces of the project with her and spoke about finding UTH at a time when she was feeling isolated after her tours with the US Marines as a survivor of Military Sexual Trauma.  Regina was featured in the film documentary, The Invisible War and the Austin performances of The Telling Project last month.  She has set up a website  with a number of resources for MST survivors.

Fatigues Clothesline, detail.  Survivors of MST write on fatigues to express how  MST has affected them.

Regina Vasquez speaks at the UTH fundraiser

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Ft. Hood Sergeant in charge of sexual assault prevention is accused of sexual assault

"I am outraged and disgusted by the reports out of Fort Hood today," said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, calling them the "latest chapter in a long, sordid history of sexual abuse" in the military.

-- CNN News, May 15, 2013

It is worth noting that Chairman McKeon is a Republican Congressperson from California.  He is admitting that sexual abuse in the military is not a momentary aberation, but a chronic disease.  Read the rest of this story here.


Sunday, May 12, 2013

Moms in the military

Thanks to Iraq Veterans Against the War member, Nicole Goodwin, for writing this piece that was published on a parenting blog in the New York Times on May 5, 2013:

Talking With My Daughter About My Service in Iraq


“Mom, what did you see over there? What was it like? Did you have a gun? Did you kill anyone?”

The first time my daughter Shylah asked me about being a soldier in Iraq, she was 6 years old. Her class had been studying the war.

But I had no idea how to answer her questions. I had not figured out for myself why I had been in Iraq. I didn’t know what sense to make of the horrors I had witnessed. Nor had I dealt with my guilt that I had chosen to stay in the military and leave behind my child when I had no certainty that I would return.

Did I want to tell my daughter about all the children I had seen in orphanages or begging at the side of the road? Would I ever be ready to tell her that, while looking for insurgents, I’d had to intimidate people? Or that when I was guarding prisoners, I’d had to shut off all feeling and act like a stone?

How could I ever tell my child that real-life bogeymen exist and that, for the Iraqi people, I was one of them?

It was only a month after Shylah was born that I kissed her goodbye and flew off to Iraq. When I returned, 10 months later, I was riddled with anger, self-hatred and loneliness.

My daughter was my one bright spot. I saw her eyes light up when it dawned on her that I was her mom. That gave me great hope that I could make things right. At first, I did. But over the years, my post-traumatic stress disorder and depression grew worse. I had nightmares so bad that I would wet the bed.

Then, three years ago, around the same time Shylah began asking me about my experiences at war, I slapped her. She told her therapist and the therapist called Child Protective Services, and they took my daughter from me.

Again, I was determined to make things right. During the six months Shylah was in foster care, I saw her almost daily, and I spent time in therapy facing the bogeymen inside me that I had been running from for so long.

Still, I never told Shylah that my problems had anything to do with Iraq. I just told her that mommy was sick and sad.

When she came home, we had to deal with all the anger, fear and guilt she had felt when she was separated from me. It was then that I realized I would need to find a way to share my experiences of war with her. I couldn’t lock away everything I’d experienced without locking away parts of me that Shylah needed.

But what could I share? I didn’t want to traumatize my daughter. So I approached the subject slowly, and from a distance. I started with cartoons.

When I was a little girl, growing up poor in Brooklyn in the crack era, “Tom and Jerry,” “Ghostbusters,” “Beetlejuice” and “Batman” made me feel strong enough to laugh despite all the violence and craziness around me. They made me feel like it was O.K. to be silly and angry and to make mistakes.

With Shylah, I watched “Adventure Time.” Marceline is a little girl orphaned by war, and the Ice King is a compassionate person who would sacrifice himself to ease a child’s suffering. He takes the crown of power in order to stop the war and save Marceline. But taking power also takes away his memories, and his sanity. He winds up a strange and lonesome man who lives with a bunch of penguins and doesn’t have any human friends.

One time, Shylah and I watched an episode where the Ice King was fighting the process of losing his memory. He was writing down anything he could remember on the back of newspapers and scraps of paper. Marceline went to visit him. There was rubble all around and the Ice King turned to her and sang: “Marceline, is it just you and me left in the wreckage of the world? That must be so scary for a little girl.”

The scene reminded me of the children standing in the rubble by the road in Baghdad begging for money, for gas, for food. They reminded me of feeling like my hands were tied — I was powerless to ease their suffering, or even to be there for my own daughter. For a moment, I cried.

As I cried, silence filled the room, but it wasn’t the eeriness that used to come between Shylah and me when I tried to shut off my feelings. It was a connected silence, a quiet understanding. For once I wasn’t afraid to be sad, and for my daughter, that seemed to come as a relief.

Then the cartoon returned to being funny, and we were able to laugh again, together.

When my daughter is older, I think I’ll start showing her some of what I’ve written about her and about my time at war. I think it will help that I write. I’ll be brave enough to say, “Here, I wrote this,” when what I’ll really want is just to run out of the room. I’ll be able to share instead of hiding, stay connected instead of breaking us apart.

It’s important for me to keep finding ways to let my daughter know my story, because my story is a big part of her story as a person. For us, our story includes the war.

Nicole Goodwin is a single mother, veteran and graduate of the City College of New York. She writes for Rise, a magazine by and for parents affected by the child welfare system.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Sexual assault rates within the military increase despite growing awareness

The high rates of sexual assault within the military are becoming more well-known, but rates keep increasing, according to a new Pentagon report.  Why?  Tolerance - even promotion - of gender discrimination, alcohol abuse and protecting higher-ups in the chain of command -- all these play a role.  Sunday's arrest of Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski for sexual battery -- the Air Force officer who was actually placed in charge of the sexual prevention programs within the Air Force -- is a major case in point:

NBC News:  The Air Force official in charge of its sexual-assault prevention program was arrested for groping, authorities said Monday.
Lt. Col. Jeff Krusinski, 41, was removed from his position as head of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office pending an investigation, the Air Force said.
The incident happened just after midnight Sunday when a drunken Krusinski allegedly approached the woman in a parking lot in Arlington, Va., and grabbed her breasts and buttocks, according to a police report.
Police said the woman fought off her assailant and scratches can be seen on Krusinski’s face in his mug shot. He was charged with sexual battery.
The charges are "deeply troubling," Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh said Tuesday. The Air Force has requested jurisdiction in the case, which is standard practice.  Krusinski didn't show up for work Monday and would not talk to colleagues about the incident, a senior defense official said.
"He has been removed," Lt. Col. Laurel Tingley said of Krusinski, who had been in charge of the sexual-assault unit for about two months.
His arrest comes as the U.S. military grapples with sexual assault in its ranks. The Air Force recently came under fire when a commander reversed a guilty verdict in a sexual assault case.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel expressed his "outrage and disgust" to Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley Monday night after learning about the allegations against Krusinski. Hagel "emphasized that this matter will be dealt with swiftly and decisively," a Pentagon statement said.
"This is absolutely infuriating," said Greg Jacob, policy director at the Service Women's Action Network. "Clearly the business-as-usual manner in which the military handles sexual assault cases has led to a climate where the very officers in charge of preventing this criminal activity feel that sexual assault is acceptable behavior.
"The military has proven time and again that the current system of prosecuting these cases is broken," he said.
The Pentagon will release its annual report on sexual assaults in the military on Tuesday afternoon, which shows an increase in reported assaults in fiscal year 2012 — up from 3,192 a year before. Furthermore, the number of people who made an anonymous claim that they were sexually assaulted but never reported the attack skyrocketed from 19,000 in FY11 to 26,000 in FY12.
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., a member of the Armed Services Committee, said the allegations were "extremely disturbing."
"It is clear that the status quo regarding sexual assaults in the military is simply unacceptable. Next week I am going to take this issue head on by introducing a set of common sense reforms," she said in a statement.
"We have to reform how the military handles sexual assault cases and take on the culture that perpetuates this kind of behavior.”
Sexual assaults of both women and men within the US armed forces must be seen partly as a consequence of the power structure within the military as well as training that uses belittlement and degradation as a method of control.